ENGL 204 A: Popular Fiction And Media


Meeting Time: 
MWF 12:30pm - 1:20pm
GWN 301
Tom Foster
Tom Foster

Syllabus Description:

Schedule of readings:  You should complete the required reading prior to the lecture for that day (for instance, read the works assigned for September 29 before the September 29 lecture).  Shorter pieces available as pdfs are marked as such below and can be found on the “Files” page of the Canvas site.   Some readings are suggested only; you are not required to read these works prior to lecture.  I will reference suggested readings in lecture, and they may be required for your discussion section (if so, these readings and the dates for their completion will be announced in section).  But you will not be tested on the suggested readings, though you may use them in your take-home essays.


Week 1.

September 27: Introduction and overview


September 29: The science-fictional context

                          Excerpt from Philip Wylie, Gladiator (pdf)             

                          Jack Williamson, “The Girl From Mars” (pdf) 


Week 2.

October 2: C.L. (Catherine) Moore and Henry Kuttner, “The Children’s Hour” (pdf)

                    Brian Attebery, “Super Men” (pdf)


October 4: C.L. Moore, “No Woman Born” (pdf)

                    Judith Merril, “That Only a Mother” (pdf)

                    Brian Attebery, “Wonder Women” (pdf)


October 6: No lecture on this date



Week 3.

October 9: Brief introduction to the comics medium

Excerpts from Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (pdf)


October 11: Superman, World War II, and the Golden Age of superheroes

Herbert S. Fine (Jerry Siegel), “Reign of the Superman” – available online at:

    http://ia351419.us.archive.org/1/items/ReignOfTheSuperman/RSM (pdf)

“The Origin of Superman & His Powers” (June 1939; pdf)    

 “What If Superman Ended the War?” (February 1940; pdf)

“Visit to Hitler” (1945; pdf)

Gerard Jones, “Men of Tomorrow” (pdf)

Suggested only: “The Conquest of a City” (1942; pdf)

Suggested only: “The King of the Comic Books” (1943; pdf)

Suggested only: “The Origin of Superman” (1948; pdf)

Suggested only: Friedrich Nietzsche, excerpt from Thus Spoke Zarathustra (pdf)


October 13:

“The Adventure of the Merchant of Murder” (May 1942; pdf)     

“Must There Be a Superman?” (1972; pdf)

“Return to Krypton” (1988; pdf)

“When Worlds Collide” (pdf)

Kim Newman, “Ubermensch” (pdf)

Suggested only: Umberto Eco, “The Myth of Superman” (pdf)


Week 4.

October 16: Batman

“The Return of Doctor Death” (1939; pdf)

“Batman Versus the Vampire, Parts One and Two” (1939; pdf)

“The Origin of Batman” (1948; pdf)

Suggested only: “There Is No Hope in Crime Alley!” (1976; pdf)

Suggested only: “Case No. 1: Meet Captain America” (1941; pdf)


October 18: Wonder Woman

“The Origin of Wonder Woman” (1942; pdf)

“The Unbound Amazon” (1943; pdf)

“Battle for Womanhood” (1943; pdf)

Trina Robbins, “The Great Women Superheroes” (pdf)

October 20: “The Adventure of the Life Vitamin” (1943; pdf)

                      “America’s Wonder Women of Tomorrow” (1943; pdf)



Week 5.

October 23: Contemporary superhero narratives and the turn to realism

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen

Alan Moore, “The Mark of Batman: An Introduction” (pdf)


October 25: Watchmen      

Geoff Klock, “The Revisionary Superhero Narrative” (pdf)


October 27: Watchmen


Take-home midterm exam essay questions posted, Friday, October 27


Week 6.

October 30: Watchmen


November 1: Watchmen


November 3: Midterm exam, in class; take-home essays due


Week 7.

November 6: Narrating a universe: Return to the Silver Age

Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, Marvels

Charles Hatfield, “Jack Kirby and the Marvel Aesthetic” (pdf)


November 8: Marvels


November 10: No class; Veteran’s Day


Week 8.

November 13: Marvels


November 15: From universe to multiverse

The Amazing Spider-Man: Edge of Spider-Verse

Suggested only: Henry Jenkins, “Scribbling in the Margins: Fan Readers/Fan Writers” (pdf)


November 17: The Amazing Spider-Man: Edge of Spider-Verse


Week 9.

November 20: Superheroes, race, and gender

Selections from Dwayne McDuffie and M.D. Bright, Icon, to be viewed in class and

            posted on the Canvas site

Suggested only: Jeffrey Brown, “Comic Book Masculinity” (pdf)


November 22: No class; Thanksgiving holiday


November 24: No class; Thanksgiving holiday


Week 10.

November 27: Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, The Shadow Hero

Suggested only: Saladin Ahmed, “How Censors Killed the Weird, Experimental, Progressive Golden Age of Comics”; available online at http://www.buzzfeed.com/saladinahmed/how-the-comics-code-killed-the-golden-age-of-comics


November 29: The Shadow Hero


December 1: The Shadow Hero



Week 11.

December 4: G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, Ms. Marvel

Suggested only: Jack Cole, “Plague of Plastic People” (1950; pdf)  

Suggested only: H.G. Wells, “The Limits of Individual Plasticity” (pdf)


December 6: Ms. Marvel


Take-home final exam questions posted, Wednesday, December 7


December 8: Ms. Marvel



In-class final exam, Thursday, December 14, 8:30-10:20 a.m., in our regular classroom, Gowen 301; take-home essays due at this time


Catalog Description: 
Introduces students to the study of popular culture, possibly including print or visual media, understood as sites of critical reflection. Particular attention to dynamics of production and reception, aesthetics and technique, and cultural politics. Topics may foreground genres (science fiction; romance) or forms (comics; graffiti). Offered: S.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
March 22, 2018 - 10:00pm